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Life in a Federal Prison Camp

Updated on April 18, 2014

Doing time is hard but not impossible.

I spent 29 months in a federal prison camp. 18 months in Atlanta, Georgia and 11 months in Edgefield, South Carolina. It is not something I am proud of obviously but it is a fact and I feel compelled to share with the world the truth about what actually goes on in that environment. Some of it you might find pretty shocking.

My crime is of little importance, suffice it to say that it was "white Collar" hence the sentencing to a camp environment but I can tell you that it was not at all what I expected it to be, given the preconceived notions that are in existence out there.

First of all, the notion of "Club Fed" is a farce. Despite what you might have read or seen on sixty minutes, there is no place where those convicted of federal crimes go to "Hang Out" in a spa environment, play tennis or work out with weights all day. It simply doesn't exist.

There are exercise machines but they are very basic in nature. There is a 1/4 track and I would estimate that walking is in fact the number one form of exercise. The is a softball diamond and a basketball court but again all of these are certainly very "bare bones", nothing that I would consider "state of the art" or very costly.

Please understand that I see nothing wrong with this, after all, prison is punishment and I see no reason why inmates, myself included should be afforded any frills. I do however think that it isn't a bad idea to give at least the basics as far as recreational activity considering that some 500 men, with a criminal bent already, are being held in one place for very long periods of time and given the opportunity to participate in some sort of recreational activity would, I believe, be preferable to the alternative, leaving them to entertain themselves.

While there is no "Club Fed" or at least nothing of that sort that I was exposed to, there is a really serious problem in this country with a legal system that has gone haywire and often hands down mandatory sentences to men like myself who would have been better served continuing to work and required to pay a large fine. My prison stay benefited no one.

Sadly, Judges no longer have the authority to "judge" making a decision on the bench or the flexibility to be lenient in a case where it makes sense even to "throw the book" at someone when it doesn't . All sentences now, at least in the case of Federal crimes, an ever expanding category, are handed down now on the basis of Federal sentencing guidelines, thereby eliminating the old method of letting the punishment fit the crime.

This has caused the prison population throughout the country to swell to unimaginable numbers and placed a burden on the Bureau of Prisons to cope with the ever expanding growth rate. That said, if there ever was a time or place where "white collar" criminals went to do easy time, that place simply no longer exists.

What does exist is corruption and abuses of the system at its highest. I entered the Atlanta Federal Prison Camp on October 27, 2004 and it took me no less than a few days to learn that I could leave the camp each night if I so desired, have a drink any night of the week if I so chose and even enjoy the company of a lady of the evening once a week if that was what I wanted. In short, Atlanta was a "wild west town" where basically anything went.The guards for the most part were corrupt and could be paid to produce anything from drugs, to liquor, to female companionship and would readily do so upon request.

There are three kinds of guards in Federal Prison, those who are really pretty good men, they want to help where they can and understand that the charges against a lot of inmates are ridiculous and that they have no business in prison. They just want to help them get through their time and move on. Then there are those who are strictly in it for themselves and are out to milk every dollar out of the experience that they can. Finally there are those who are in a nutshell, sadistic jerks who are on a power trip and want to see just how much pain they can inflict on some poor soul who has become subject to their tyranny. Unfortunately, I experienced each of the personalities and I have to tell you that numbers two and three were to say the least nauseating.

I personally witnessed instances in which guards, even supervisors took money from inmates in exchange for favors such as being let out for several hours, allowing a hooker to visit the camp, or looking the other way as drugs and alcohol were smuggled in.

I saw with my own eyes, food meant for inmates, in large quantities, being unloaded from a truck in the front, passed through the kitchen storage area and loaded out the back door into a supervisors car and hauled away. There were similar instances of building materials, tools, etc. bought and paid for with tax dollars leaving the camp with guards in their personal vehicles never to return.

Prepaid cell phones were a booming business. Prohibited in the camp, they were smuggled in by guards almost daily and sold to the highest bidder who would then in turn sell them to another inmate or sell use of the phone as an ongoing business.

In essence, they had a foolproof racket. No inmate, no matter how spotless, would dare try to tell anyone in authority because you never knew who could be trusted and who couldn't and there was the constant fear or retaliation. No one wanted to go the solitary, get shipped out to another institution or worse. It simply wasn't worth it. There was no reward for inmate honesty.

The corruption ran unchecked from the day I arrived until the day I left the Atlanta Camp and while it has been a few years now since I was there, I dare say the chances are very good that it still does today. The Edgefield facility however was a different story. During my 11 month stay there, I can honestly say that I saw nothing more serious than an overzealous guard picking on an inmate here and there and none of the corruption to which I had become accustomed in Atlanta. Lest someone think I am just an angry ex inmate with an axe to grind. I can only speak of what I witnessed and I simply did not see it in Edgefield.

I spent no time in any other facility and cannot speak with authority about what might or might not have gone on at any other camp in the system. I am sure it is possible that Atlanta is an exceptional case, although I truly believe that the odds are against that. Even still, were Atlanta the exception, It stands as a classic example of corruption that should in some way be exposed and corrected. The major questions remains however how?

The sad truth is, the BOP, like so many other swollen federal agencies simply doesn't know how to fix the problem and limited resources and apathy on the part of lawmakers with regard to prison reform only serve to compound it. So it continues for a yet undetermined amount of time and guys like me, who know for a fact it exists write about it here.

If you liked this HUB try my book at at Amazon for Kindle!


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    • profile image


      18 months ago


      I think you are correct that the camp environment at the Federal level is the easiest time to do.

      I did not find the guards who tried to help disgusting and if it appeared that way I’m sorry. There were good and bad guards and I much prefered the good.

      I’m sure corruption varies by locale. It did in my experience at least.

      Thank you for your comments and insights. I’m sorry I didn’t respond earlier.

    • wpcooper profile image

      Finnegan Williams 

      2 years ago from Bakersfield

      well pretty interesting and insightful and very disappointing to hear about the corruption. I think some facilities might be more tolerant of activity than others and as your said in NC you didn't see the things you did in GA.

      I am curious though because you write something like "the latter two were the least nauseating" when you talk about the three types of guards....does that mean, the nice guard who tried to help the inmates or treat him with respect sickened you the most? You actually liked the sadistic and corrupt ones more?

      Well I guess that can make some bit of sense.

      From what I hear though, Federal Time is much more easier than state time. And since you were in an M yard, your experience with the federal system might be a little different than a mainline. In the full time housing units they are a little more regimented and from what I understand respectful (both guards and inmates). I hear the staff eat with the inmates including the warden and in fact, state inmates usually prefer to do federal time for a variety of reasons.

      Either way, good article

    • klw1157 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kevin Washburn 

      2 years ago from Macon, GA


      Thank you for your comments and you are correct, there are many restrictions on those of us who made the mistake of becoming convicted felons. That said, I do not believe that it is impossible to reestablish a decent quality of life post prison. That is not to say that it will be easy, it requires commitment and strict adherence to the rules at least initially as it relates to supervised release, reporting, supervised travel, etc.. For me, while I found those requirements somewhat restrictive in nature, I certainly would never classify them as impossible. As it relates to employment, again you're correct, the prospects are much more limited than those of a non felon but again, hard work, honesty, adherence to the rules and over all attitude are important in making that part of the equation work to your ultimate benefit. In my case, I was hired as a dispatcher for a local plumbing/hvac company, was promoted from there to salesmen, then to sales manager and finally to General Manager over the course of 4 years. During that time. I bought a home, two cars, established credit accounts and traveled on s limited basis to visit family and friends. Always being careful to disclose my status as a felon. The Conviction of a felony is mistake, there is no other accurate way to describe it and the subsequent life that follows has to be dealt with under those parameters. Given the fact however that the choices are extremely limited, basically to live with it and make the best of what there is or don't and end up back in incarceration. The best choice is really pretty clear. Functioning as a felon can be hard but so can life, the former certainly a little harder but in the end, both are mostly about attitude and what you chose to do with what you have.

    • profile image

      Ross Kardon 

      2 years ago

      I have never been convicted of a crime myself. But, I do know that even after you are released from prison, you still have to live in a portable prison in free society, because of the many legal restrictions convicted felons are subject to. As a convicted felon, you cannot vote, hold public office, or own guns. You cannot certain countries such as Canada, or visit other countries such as Great Britain, unless you are granted a convicted felon visa. You cannot practice law, banking, medicine, or run businesses that serve alcohol. But, even in jobs you can legally hold. it will almost impossible to get employment because of your felony conviction record. If you become a registered sex offender for something like statutory rape, violent rape, or child molestation, or other sex crime, the restrictions you will to live under are even a lot stricter.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      You are so right about the mandatory sentences. Judges are there for a consider each case on its own set of circumstances and sentence fairly. Our government has taken away much of that ability, resulting in inequitable sentences and giving the US prosecutors way, way too much power. They are completely in the driver's seat, and many are forced to agree to inaccurate charges because they have no choice. It's either get indicted or agree to what they say. Thank you for the information, and it's good to know there's life on the other side.

    • klw1157 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kevin Washburn 

      5 years ago from Macon, GA

      Lady Guinevere, While I obviously served in a men's facility, I would not suspect that life would be drastically different for females. I am glad you found the article interesting and appreciate the link. I eagerly anticipate reading you work. Thank you. Kevin

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 

      5 years ago from West By God

      I have a friend that was or is the process of going to a Federal Prison. I just wanted to know what the difference in the day to day things that she will be going through for the next 2 years. Finding this article of yours is interesting because I am writing another friend's Prison Memoirs right here on Hubpages too. I shall link yous with his.

    • klw1157 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kevin Washburn 

      5 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thank you misterhollywood. I appreciate your reading my work and the kind comments.

    • misterhollywood profile image

      John Hollywood 

      5 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      Probably one if the most real articles I've ever read on this site and as an HP contributor. I'm gonna get your book.

    • klw1157 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kevin Washburn 

      5 years ago from Macon, GA

      You are absolutely correct Ron. Lack of information and apathy are the major enemies of Prison reform. Thanks for reading my work!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      5 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks for the inside look. It's not a pretty sight. Most people have no idea what goes on in the prison system, so I guess there's not a lot of political pressure to get things fixed.

    • klw1157 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kevin Washburn 

      5 years ago from Macon, GA

      fpherj48, Thank you for reading and for your kind words. In the prison system as in any work environment, there are two kinds of employees, good and bad. Suffice it to say that the BOP certainly has it share of both. Just as there were some terribly corrupt guards, there were also some good, kindhearted men and women. My hope in writing the HUB was to give a clear and accurate assessment of what it was like to spend significant time in a Federal Prison Camp from every possible angle, the good, the bad and the ugly. While I do consider my time there to have been a learning experience in many ways, it is certainly something that I would have preferred not to do. I wish the experience on no one but now that it is over I am indeed once again free and happy, probably more so for having had the experience and certainly for having it behind me. Loss of freedom can be a real eye opener.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Kevin....Sorry to say that none of this surprises me in the least. I'm afraid this is the way it is. Living within close proximity of 2 medium security and 1 maximum security facility, I have many family members and friends who are employed by the Dept of Corrections. a matter of fact, I've personally known a few individuals who are or have been inmates. I was very close to a man who did the same type of time in a Fed Camp as you did....only he was in for 7 years, give or take a year. I only met him after the fact. He had plenty of tales to tell, but not so much about the internal corruption as "life in general, on the inside."

      I'm quite content to take your word for this. NEVER would I like to find out for real!..............Glad you are free, happy and productive at this point in your life. I wish you much happiness & success.....Up++++

    • CraftytotheCore profile image


      5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your story. I never knew there was such a thing as a camp prison. Very interesting.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      This is something else! You should consider writing a book.

    • profile image

      Cecil Rogers 

      7 years ago

      I was among the first twenty inmates assigned to the camp when it opened in 1984. At that time, the guards were not corrupt and most of them were pretty sensitive and helpful. We were allowed to use construction equipment to level the field behind the camp and make a softball field and walking track. The inmates were all non-violent and we actually had some good times with chess tournaments. No one that I know left the camp for an evening out. One guy did walk off to go home, but was caught and sent to the maximum security prison next door. The threat of being sent "inside" was enough to deter us from straying. I spent eighteen months.

    • eventsyoudesign profile image


      9 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

      Wow! I sure do appreciate my freedom. Please write more. I would read your stories. Thanks for sharing.

    • stephanie mclain profile image


      9 years ago from Texas

      What a great share, that takes guts! ;)

      You should write a book of your experiences. I'd read it!

    • MobyWho profile image


      9 years ago from Burlington VT

      Bravo for sharing your experiences. It takes brave people like you to alert us all to flagrant abuse, not only in the prison system, but the whole justice system, regardless of right or wrong.


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